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Monday, March 10

Civil Serf was a mistake and a priviliged moan, that's all

It starts with the name. Here's what a 'serf' actually is:

Serfdom is the socio-economic status of peasants under feudalism, and specifically relates to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery seen primarily during the Middle Ages in Europe. Serfdom was the enforced labour of serfs on the fields of landowners, in return for protection and the right to work on their leased fields.
She wasn't a serf but a highly privileged Westerner who has numerous protections. To call yourself a 'serf' in that way to me says it all about the lack of self-awareness at the heart of it. It may have been fun to read but so is a good column. Hardly earth-shattering or ground-breaking or world-changing, just 'fun'. Yes Minister said the same thirty years ago.

She also wasn't a 'whistleblower' because the inefficiency of Whitehall under any government is hardly news. Stood alongside the likes of Elizabeth Wilmshurst or even 'Posh Bird', she's not worthy of the title although if you read the right-wing press you'd think she was a campaigning undercover journalist.

What Civil Serf fitted into was the category of work moan blogs of which they are a number of examples proliferating all over social media. Yes, it provided right-wingers with thrills and those of us in eGov with recognition but what did she achieve? What was she trying to achieve?

Answer: Moaning. It did her good but who else? Not an alternative, another way to do things. How was it a constructive contribution?

I can't link to any examples of her writing because none exist, it's left no trace because that wasn't why she did it.

I 100% agree with Jeremy Gould who writes:
The facts are simple, Civil Serf crossed the line.
I have never written about my workplace and here's a few reasons why not:
  1. I actually have some real power which self-publishing gives me because they couldn't respond, except by sacking me, which could be turned into martyrdom (I'm sure, once named, Civil Serf will perform that role for the government's opponents). It's a one way 'dialogue' in which they would be muffled. Unfair and not helpful.
  2. The nature of blogging means that if I started I'd be very likely to say something I'd later regret
  3. I don't want someone to have the ability to censor me and that's the most obvious way in which I'd start censoring myself.
  4. Much of what I'd want to talk about are issues, which I don't need my workplace for to source examples to illustrate.
What people don't seem to realise is which civil servants are going to if - as some slaveringly want - they blog to 'open up the workings of government'. It'll be the self-appointed and those with the resources and knowledge and an agenda. It's just their view but would be accepted as gospel: blogging is powerful stuff, as the newspaper coverage illustrates. That's exactly what's happened with her posts.

But Civil Serf was really just gossip and having been a gossip columnist I know full well the power that gives you: I could have put people out of business and the only times I used that power was when INXS ripped off a benefit concert and when a party promoter kept ignoring Health & Safety. Actually, that's journalism.

As I remarked when David Cameron launched another online consultation, how is my offline Mum supposed to be heard? No. The only people who will be doing the 'exposing' are not representatives of a movement, or real whistleblowers (who are heroic) or the underpaid cleaners for that matter. It will be middle-class people like Civil Serf who have to suffer, poor dears, through boring meetings and hear a lot of ridiculous language. And if they carry on doing it they will be the ones setting the agenda. And that is definitely not a good thing.


Postscript: My egov colleague Simon Dickson has found that the abandoned civil serf web address became available and has stuck up a page. Genius! He says: "A blogging free-for-all is clearly not the right way forward. But equally, this affair proves that the total lockdown can't reasonably work either... We need to find a better way ... Let's see if we can't turn the Civil Serf affair into something positive for public engagement."

1 comment:

  1. Well said Paul. More reasoned thought and a good set of guidelines.